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B.C. PSE split sets dangerous precedent

There seems to be no place for the arts and humanities in Campbell’s vision of higher education


 

In perhaps one of the more bizarre cabinet shuffles ever, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell split the province’s post-secondary education ministry in two on Monday. Colleges will now be under the new Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development, while the province’s universities now fall under the new Ministry of Science and Universities.

What seems to be puzzling most people, especially students, is the lack of explanation for this new split, and what it could mean for the province’s credit transfer system. But perhaps British Columbians should be assessing the government’s correlation between universities and science, and colleges and skills development — a divide that looks like the province is attempting specialization.

Related: Against specialization

With no links to the new departments on the government’s Ministries and Organizations page, I’m wondering if Campbell is preparing to make a further announcement about what exactly post-secondary education means to his B.C. in this split. What does the connection to such specific industries mean?

Is the province gearing up to make a bold statement about the importance of things like science, technology and economic contribution? Is it an attempt at luring more research or venture capital money into the province? Is the province itching for a discovery-related claim to fame?

With the colleges apparently taking more of a skills-based approach and universities forced to focus on research, there seems to be no place for the arts and humanities in Campbell’s re-envisioned version of what post-secondary means to B.C. With this split, Campbell is stating that post-secondary education needs tangible benefits — i.e. research discoveries or trade skills that would bolster the economy — in order to be deemed worthy.

This kind of attitude towards education is setting a dangerous precedent in Canada, and B.C. certainly isn’t alone in this trend. Indeed Nova Scotia and Ontario could be heading in this direction soon, as well. The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario released a report yesterday calling for the province’s universities to specialize their programs.

“I’m not suggesting any university close down its engineering program or stop doing research, but the funding formula just can’t sustain having every institution have every program — there are complaints already that classes are too large and students don’t know their profs,” said president Harvey Weingarten in the report.

“If Ryerson were to say its priority is undergraduate programs that graduate the next wave of entrepreneurs, for example, it might be that the U of T wouldn’t have a program exactly like that.”

In Nova Scotia, the O’Neill report, released in September, recommended that universities look at merger and restructuring options to ensure survival and adequate government funding.

Sure, finding a job upon graduation is on the top of most students’ minds, but should that come at the cost of a good education? For the price students are paying, they shouldn’t be forced into the government’s idea of what education is. Is Campbell asking the future of his province to sacrifice what university is traditionally about — intellectual stimulus and the pursuit of knowledge — in favour of a sense of service to their province.

The intense changes post-secondary education is currently undergoing in this country will dramatically alter what higher learning means. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. Should we be preparing for military-like recruitment campaigns, waxing poetic about service to one’s country through education?


 

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